Although Iraq's Shi'as constitute about half of the country's population, Iraq's government has been traditionally dominated by the country's Sunni minority. While are Shi'a in other parts of Iraq, much of the country's Shi'a population lives in the southern marshland regions near the Iranian border. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a Shi'i resistance group, was formed in Iran in 1982 to provide an opposition to Iraqi aggression against Iran. Following the Iran-Iraq war, the organization continued to operate with the aim of toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein.
SCIRI has about 4,000-8,000 fighters, composed of Iraqi Shiite exiles and prisoners of war, operating against the Iraqi military in southern Iraq. Although SCIRI has distanced itself from Iran to some extent, Iran's Revolutionary Guard reportedly continues to provide it with weapons and training.
SCIRI is headed by Ayatollah Mohamad Baqir Al Hakim the son of the late Grand Ayatollah Muhsin Al Hakim, who was the spiritual leader for the Shia in the world for the period 1955-1970. SCIRI consist of a general assembly of 70 members which represent various Islamic movements and scholars. SCIRI has a military forces called Badr Corps. It started as a brigade and developed into a division and then into a corps. The Badr Corps consist of thousands of former Iraqi officers and soldiers who defected from the Iraqi army, Iraqi refugees and POWs. A mutual agreement has been signed by SCIRI with The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headed by Jalal Talabani to work against Saddam's regime. A similar agreement was signed with the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) headed by Masood Barzani several years ago.
At the conclusion of Desert Storm, Iraqi Kurds in the north and the Iraqi Shi'a in the south launched an armed revolt against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Iraqi government troops tried to crush the movement, reportedly razing mosques and other Shi'ite shrines and executing thousands. Amid allegations that the Iraqi army used chemical and biological weapons in their efforts, the Shi'a revolt was suppressed while the Kurdish revolt ended in the granting of political autonomy to the Kurds. But the resistance continued, and tens of thousands of rebels and Shi'ite civilians fled into the southern marshlands between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. There are now roughly 300,000 or more such refugees in the southern marshes or over the borders in Iran and Saudi Arabia.
In 1992 the Gulf War allies imposed "no-fly zones" over both northern and southern Iraq. The no-fly zones continued to deter aerial attacks on the marsh dwellers in southern Iraq and residents of northern Iraq, but they did not prevent artillery attacks on villages in either area, nor the military's large-scale burning operations in the southern marshes. In 1997 Iraqi armed forces conducted deliberate artillery attacks against Shi'a civilians in the southern marshes and against minority groups in northern Iraq.
The Iraqi Government also continued its water-diversion and other projects in the south, accelerating the process of large-scale environmental destruction. The Government claimed that the drainage is part of a land reclamation plan to increase the acreage of arable land, spur agricultural production, and reduce salt pollution in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. However, the evidence of large-scale human and ecological destruction appears to belie this claim, and other credible reports confirmed the ongoing destruction of the marshes. The Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) claimed to have obtained government documents describing its long-range plans to drain the marshes completely. The army continued to construct canals, causeways, and earthen berms to divert water from the wetlands. Hundreds of square kilometers have been burned in military operations. Moreover, the regime's diversion of supplies in the south limited the population's access to food, medicine, drinking water, and transportation.